Arts Fest 2022

This is the 4th year for Arts Fest in Great Falls. Street artists from around the country converge on downtown to paint amazing murals on the sides of buildings. I was sick and stuck at home for most of this year’s event, but managed to make it out Wednesday for the Artist Reception. There were some familiar faces, and a few new ones, but it was a great event. The pieces that the artists paint during the reception are auctioned off at the end. I had my eye on one, but my wallet couldn’t keep up with the bidding.

I’m hoping to run around to all of this year’s murals later this week, and will update the album when I do.

More info on ArtsFest can be found on the official website.

Widow

For whatever reason, I’ve always been terrified of spiders. There are exceptions, (I’ll let a tarantula crawl all over my arm,) but for the most part, I avoid them like the plague.

I recently drove my mom and I to a little mini family reunion, and was reminded of the fact that when I was in college and living at home, she would have to remove the occasional arachnid from the shower before I would even set foot in the bathroom. I’m not proud. But the bathtub spiders were HUGE.

When I lived in Portland, I was constantly dodging giant house spiders. Seriously, they were everywhere. I even found a particularly giant one on my bed one afternoon. Almost had to burn the entire house down. So I had a dilemma: to kill or not to kill. I love animals, so I generally won’t kill them without a good reason (like they’re a tasty animal and I plan on eating them.) I came up with a rule for spiders. If they were either outside, or in a generally unused part of the house, I’d let them be. But if they were in my bed, or in my kitchen, or any other inside area I frequented, they had to die.

A couple of weeks ago I was working in the garage and noticed a creepy looking critter trying to hang out just inside. I recognized it from the old fake images from Iraq I saw years ago. It was a relatively small camel spider, which isn’t even a spider. They aren’t venomous, but they have crab-claw-looking pincers on their faces. It was even kind of cute in a nightmare-inducing kind of way. Apparently they like the shade, and this one was hanging out just inside the shade line in the garage. It wasn’t bothering anybody, so I let it be.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve seen a single spider in the house since I moved back to Montana. Actually, I had more wildlife in and around my house in Portland than I have here. It’s odd. At any rate, I’m getting used to seeing spiders in the garage.

At the end of last summer, when I brought the boat in for the winter, I inadvertently brought a hornet’s nest in with it. There was a large crab spider type thing in the garage window then, and it massacred every hornet that headed for the window in an attempt to escape the garage. I liked that spider.

This summer, there’s a new resident in the garage window. I glanced over at the window last week and saw her, just hanging out. I thought she looked familiar, so I got closer. Sure enough, there was a red hourglass on the underside of her belly. I’d seen a black widow a decade or two before, but this is the first one that didn’t run and hide immediately.

Since the first sighting, I’ve been keeping an eye on her. She’s a busy girl. She murders every single bug that gets caught up in her web. There are no hornets left in the garage, but plenty of other pesky things, so I like her too.

I’m really just hoping she doesn’t have babies in the window. How do you ask a black widow to go outside to procreate?

Mornings

One thing I love about summer is the early sunrises. I tend to wake up whenever sunlight starts streaming through my window, so in the summer I tend to wake up early. The older I get, the more I enjoy waking up early.

The other day, I woke up at 5:45 am. Wide awake. No point in even trying to go back to bed, so I grabbed my camera and hopped in the truck. The plan was to just grab a few shots on the way to my friend’s awesome new coffee shop in Great Falls, but I got sidetracked on the way there.

There’s a road that heads west out of Ulm. It’s marked with a dead end sign, so I’ve never driven it. Square Butte happened to catch my eye, and that dead-end road was headed in the right direction, so I decided to check it out. It didn’t quite do what I’d hoped it would do for the Square Butte photo (never rose up high enough to see the full butte,) but it was good enough.

Square Butte in the morning light.

The sky was just cloudy enough to keep the light interesting, and I found some areas I need to explore further later this summer. Definitely worth the drive.

I was on my way to the coffee shop by 7 am with a camera full of photos. I can’t think of a better way to start a day.

Delicious coffee at Broadwater Coffee Brewing

South Shore Trail

When I was in high school, I would drive out along Giant Springs Road and park by the railroad bridge. There was usually something interesting down the hill by the water–a shopping cart, a bike, etc. I don’t remember there ever being trailheads, though. It’s entirely possible they were there, but my teenage self was never really looking for trailheads.

Today is my dog’s 6th birthday. I think. Vet’s best guess was that he was born sometime in December, so I picked the 15th.

Diego the dog, smiling on his walk

Side note on the dog: He was born in a dump in Baja, Mexico. There’s a shelter down there that partners with a shelter in the Pacific Northwest, so he immigrated. The first time I took him to the vet, the vet tech and I had to translate his immunization records from Spanish.

Anyway, I’ve been slacking on his walks lately, so I figured a birthday walk was in order.

Rainbow dam

Rainbow Dam

The south shore trailhead parking area is just south of the BNSF train bridge. There seem to be two parking areas–one for an overlook, and another for the trail itself. There are benches along the trail that make it easy to kick back and enjoy the view when you need a break.

It was windy as shit today, so we only went a mile or so down the trail. Based on the Google Maps satellite view, it looks like the trail goes on past Ryan Dam. Might have to explore that one these days when it’s a little warmer.

The River’s Edge Trail runs almost 60 miles along both sides of the Missouri River.

Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge

Google Maps has made a huge difference in how I pick places to photograph. In the 22 years I lived in Montana as a kid, I never knew Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge existed. Maybe it didn’t back then, I’m not sure. But since I moved back, I’ve been scouring the satellite view of Google Maps looking for places that seem interesting.

Side-note: Lost Lake is another place I didn’t know existed until Google Maps. And I used to live 15 minutes from it. That place is amazing.

Back to Benton Lake… I picked up a new 100-400mm lens, and wanted to test it out. My favorite step-mom is an avid bird photographer, so she suggested Benton Lake.

It was a little late in the season, so the bird selection was somewhat limited, but it was still a great place to try out the new lens.

I can’t wait to go back when the birds come back next year.

These, and all future photos of Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge will live in the project gallery, linked below.

First People’s Buffalo Jump

My mom will outlive us all. She and her service dog walk all over town. To yoga, to classes, to the grocery store. Wherever she needs to go, they walk. They might take a bus in the winter when it’s really cold, but only if it’s really cold. So when she visits, she requires walks.

Mom and Kaiah

The First People’s Buffalo Jump is just down the road from me, so on her last visit we decided to walk the lower loop. I’m almost ashamed to admit I hadn’t actually been to the lower part of the park before. I’ve driven to the top, looked around, even shot some Milky Way shots from the entrance to the upper area. I was looking forward to hiking the lower loop.

Milky Way over Central Montana

I am not in the same shape as my mom. Neither is my dog. So when we realized the trail starts off uphill, we were questioning our life choices. But it wasn’t bad. It was actually an awesome little hike. I had the camera out, hoping to get a shot of a rattlesnake, but we saw none. The second half (the downhill part,) makes for a nice leisurely stroll.

It’s a fun loop hike

My only advice would be to bring water, and watch for snakes. We may not have seen any, but it’s perfect terrain for rattlers. From a distance, they’re beautiful creatures. Just don’t try to pet them.

Heading West on the loop trail, Square Butte in the distance

If you’re feeling froggy, walk all the way up to the top and check out the prairie dog town. If you’re not feeling froggy, just drive around to the top of the park via Ulm Vaughn Road and check out the prairie dog town that way.

If you’re visiting in the winter, pay attention to the winter hours. Sometimes the upper area gate is closed in the winter–it depends on how much snow they get.

There’s a visitor center at the bottom, and a bathroom up on top. The park is open every day in the summer from 8am to 6pm, and 10am to 4pm Monday through Saturday, 12pm to 4pm Sunday in the winter. It’s definitely worth the short drive from Great Falls.

More photos will be added to the project gallery as I take them.

Cascade County Courthouse

When I first moved back to Montana, I reconnected with an old friend from high school. He’s a photographer, and he was working on documenting the Cascade County Courthouse roof restoration project for fun. He invited me to shoot it with him. If you happened to drive by the courthouse when the roof was going up, and saw two dudes staring up at their drones, that was probably us.

Steve's 3DR Solo photographing the new courthouse roof
Steve’s 3DR Solo

My first drone was a DJI Phantom 3 Standard. It was relatively inexpensive, which is important for your first drone. I drove way out into the Coast Range in Oregon, dropped in the fully charged battery, and fired it up.

Updates were required.

Normally, these updates are no more than a minor inconvenience. They just delay your take off time by a few minutes. But out there on top of that mountain with 1 bar of AT&T service, it took forever to download the update. As soon as I was ready to go, I took off. And ran into a tree.

These days, I fly a Mavic Pro, and I make sure I do my updates before I even leave the house. And I stopped running into trees. And even though I have a few more years of experience than I did on top of that mountain in Oregon, I still get nervous flying near anything of value. A building on the National Register of Historic Places counts as something that makes me nervous.

I started out shooting the roof from a distance, mostly to get a feel for what kind of interference I was going to encounter in that part of town. It was actually pretty minimal, so as time went on, I got closer and closer. Meanwhile, Steve was shooting close up drone portraits of the workers on the scaffolding (he had been flying the courthouse for a while at that point.)

Starting out at a distance…

At one point, I noticed a fuzzy dot on all my photos and video footage. It ended up being a speck of dust on the damn sensor. After a little back and forth with DJI support, I sent the Mavic back for repairs. DJI sent back a new (?) aircraft and controller. The controller had a wonky antenna, so I sent it back. Eventually, I got a new controller, and all was (mostly) good.

Side note: I say “mostly” in the previous paragraph because the “new” aircraft/controller combo had some connection issues. That made flying around the courthouse a little more challenging, but who doesn’t like a little challenge now and then?

We even flew inside the courthouse. I’m not sure why–I’m a big fan of using the best tool for the job, but it seemed like a cool opportunity, so we went for it. At that point, Steve had picked up an Inspire 2, so it was pretty cool to see it flying around inside the building.

Steve and his Inspire 2 flying the interior of the courthouse.

When the project was finished, there was a little event to show off Steve’s photography (it was his project–I was just shooting around for kicks.) The show really made it sink in how cool it was to be able to document the process. The old copper roof had been built in the early 1900s, and the idea is that this new copper will last for at least another 100 years. And we got to photograph it being installed.

You can see all the photos in the project gallery.

We even threw together a quick video: